How to Get Free Electronic Goods In Japan

Danny Choo is a guestblogger on Boing Boing. Danny resides in Tokyo, and blogs about life in Japan and Japanese subculture - he also works part time for the empire.
Why is it that your relatives or friends in Japan tell you that they got their fully functional electronic goods such as TVs, refrigerators, music centers etc from the streets for free? Many folks over here upgrade their electronic goods regularly to keep up with the Suzuki's. They've only had their TV for a couple of years and want an upgrade. By law, one should not just throw out their old electrical appliances. The owner of a TV for example would go to the local convenience store and purchase a recycle sticker (which looks something like this) that they stick on the TV - the sticker in this case may cost something like 3 USD. An appointment is then arranged with the local ward office to come and pick up the TV at a particular time. Despite what the law says, some folks just leave their stuff on the roads for others to pick up and do this because they think its a waste to have a fully functional appliance just taken away - *and* the fact that they have to pay for it to be taken away too. Do folks in your region just leave electrical appliances in fully working order around? Photo dug up from somewhere in my A Week in Tokyo series.


  1. I leave such things around, but in my own basement and storage shed. The weather would destroy them before pick-up should I leave then out by the curb for the scavengers. And once they get old enough they go up to the summer cabin.

  2. I was once in need of a new fridge, and was very happy to spot a shiny new one left on the side of the road not far from my home. My housemate and I struggled proudly with it for 20 min down the road, up the stairs, and into the kitchen. We plugged it in, turned it on, and nothing happened. So we lugged it back down the stairs and left it on the side of the road. The next morning it was gone. A month later I was walking along at the other end of our suburb, and there was the fridge, happily inviting more gullible souls to take it on further adventures!

  3. Increasingly, watching people “upgrade” their technology so frequently, ridding themselves of perfectly good, functioning goods, makes me feel a bit sick.

    I’d love to see a post about where this stuff all goes.

  4. Haha! I just came back from Bamian (a Chinese restaurant chain here in Japan) Where me and my GF ditched our old TV in the parking lot next to the dumpster.

  5. Where I’m from you cannot just curb your fridge/stove/furnace/washer/dryer – you must arrange for disposal pick-up, as the local garbage crews won’t touch them. Leave them out there long enough you may get an “eyesore”/failure to maintain property ticket and fine.
    I admit that electronic stuff at the curb will induce me to inspect – but it’s been decades since I’ve gleaned anything useful from the neighbors’ trash.

  6. My brother lived in Tokyo for about 6 years and pretty much equipped his whole apartment from off the street.

    That was in the 90s, I hear it is less prevalent nowadays, what with the economic collapse.

  7. See, in “olden times” I might have picked up decent looking electronics off the pavement, taken them to local electronics repair shops, and got them sorted, so I knew they were safe.

    Now, you’re pretty hard pressed to find an electronics repair shop. Why repair when you can toss?

    No doubt those repair shops will be back soon enough.

  8. One of the main characters in the Japanese movie Bright future or Akarui Mirai is a recycler, he goes about in a pick up truck and takes in refrigerators, TVs and the like fixes them up and recycles them.

    Interesting film.

  9. In W14, London, items left on the pavement would be taken away by scavengers within hours. People would sometimes put helpful notes on them “working fridge – please take me”, but regardless, things just went.

    My friend in N1 calls it the “Offord Rd recycling scheme”

  10. I got my armchair at university from the side of the road. I couldn’t find any electronic gadgetry in it, unless you count a rogue 50 pence piece. Which you probably don’t.

  11. @ ROBULUS:

    To some extent. But this isn’t a closed loop of people throwing stuff out and having it all picked up and reused by other people. Not all of this stuff will get picked up and fixed up. Some of it will go to be recycled – how effective is that recycling? Some of it will go to dumps, like here, and it would be interesting to know what happens with that.

    But this is interesting. We have a similar situation in the UK a lot of the time – most decent stuff (esp. furniture – my brother has picked up most of his furniture from the street or Freecycle) gets picked up straight away.

  12. Yeah, but how often do you get a legitimate reason to use “voilà” in a sentence these days?

    My understanding is that in Australia dumping of appliances, especially computers, is a big problem. They end up in landfill and have quite a lot of toxic components. They are supposed to be recycled here too.

  13. I live in Berlin and it is really common that the neighbors leave the stuffs that just got upgraded in the stairs first in case of some people leaving in the smae building would need it, and after a week take it to the recycling if nobody wants it. We got our fridge and dishwasher this way.

    it also works with furnitures, but those disapear real fast from the street and and to be seen again on the “flohmarkt”.

  14. Years ago I used to find good stuff on the streets of my small Michigan town. Whole computers even. Shame about the economy, finding stuff like that was fun…

  15. East London is scarce on *working* electronic goods, but chairs, wardrobes and the ubiquitous mattress are plentiful, in Hackney and most London boroughs. Varying states of repair, however.

    I remember once pouncing on a terrific leather armchair, and the owner came out to confirm its availability (there really was nothing wrong with it). The heartbreaking part was his son, from whose playroom said chair was apparently taken, waving it goodbye with a tear in his eye.

    I have given away my fair share of goods too – televisions, spare speakers, a boxed 4-switch atari 2600 VCS… i even taped the working remote control to the telly! It’s strange, technically it’s a crime but everything I’ve left out has disappeared within a day (except the utterly destroyed sofa. I still get the guilts late at night about that sofa)

  16. I live in Geneva (Switzerland) and this is quite common over here too. People don’t have to pay to have things taken away, but they still leave things in the street rather than calling up city services to scoop them up. This is supposedly ground for a fine ticket, but everybody does it.
    Most often you find furniture (sofas are rather common items), but you occasionally find computer monitors, printers, microwaves or TV sets. Unfortunately it rains quite a lot here, so if you’re not quick enough to pick these items up, they will just get soaked. :(

  17. Same as in South Korea – 1/2 of the stuff in my apartment is brand new that I picked up from the side of the road outside my building. Mostly things like shoe and coat racks, tv stands, etc.

  18. I’ve put stuff out in London. If it’s electronic, I’ll write “Works fine” (or “broken”) on it. If the weather’s bad I’ll put it in a bag.

    It’s generally gone by the end of the day.

    It doesn’t matter if you live in Peckham (rough area) or Chelsea (really posh), people still leave stuff outside.

  19. A few nights ago I was walking to a bar across Edinburgh and saw at least 5 nearly new looking sofas, not to mention a bed in kit form (someone seemed to have smashed it up but it was the kind that just popped together with plastic pegs anyway, easily salvagable). I even tripped over a giant headboard that looked like it was made from a big heavy type of wood. Very ornate. My flatmate keeps wanting to film an episode of his podcast on “found furniture” at random throughout the city.
    We’ve got a giant set of speakers that we found outside which we need to wire up and see how well (if at all) they work.
    I still deeply regret not getting that 30″ TV in before the rain started on it, if only so that it would motivate me to buy some homeplugs and wire up the Xbox Media Center in my room for bed related TV.
    In all honesty, I kind of look at it as a way of preventing drug related crime. Why break in to steal money for drugs when you can harvest appliances and chairs off the streets and just sell them on for a hit?

  20. Sometimes you can pick up an old TV that’ll work but most appliances on the side of the road are broken. People pick them up anyway – I put mine out the night before garbage pickup if the weather is good and they’re usually gone by morning even if they’re broken.

    In the US, we have rummage sales at churches where we resell old things very cheap. My church’s rummage sale gets all my old electronics.

  21. In past apts in Japan (90’s) did a lot of street furnishing including amps, a TV, sofa, kitchen items, etc. Best find: a set of KLH speakers.

    Serious street items in Boston years earlier, but had to be careful. The cops in Brookline would notice you, but I scored some incredible clothes in the North End. Forgotten business cards and the “stretch” button linker-uppers show that I had discovered a fattening lawyer–still have some of them.

    These days, I complete the circle and have fed a DVD player, kotatsu, Muji shelving unit, and a washing machine back to the sidewalk. The crappy part is paying for the pickup stickers to find that the stuff is gone in a few hours anyway.

  22. DR80085, The story of the traveling refrigerator would make a great short film.

    We put out lots of stuff, which usually quickly disappears. A few years ago, some dining room chairs wandered around the neighborhood. It always seemed like there was one less chair every time we saw them at the curb.

  23. is like a gigantic internet sized street corner to leave your stuff on. I would think millions of electronic units are traded around that way every year.

  24. Oh, almost forgot specialty sidewalk shopping–Japanese universities. Pulled a functioning Apple monitor, archival Powerbook 100 I gave to a collector friend, and plenty of other gear. Perusing the trash areas at unis can be excellent pickings.

    My current home is heated with a gas fan-heater picked up out from front when someone moved out. The building caretaker vouched for it amd it works like a charm. Where else would you pick up gas powered appliances and have them work? (BTW, gas company checked it out too when they came round.)

  25. The sticker costs $3, but having the stuff hauled away can cost $20 for medium sized stuff (think vcr), to $50 or more. When we bought our new tv, the store picked up our old one for us, but charged us $35 to take it.

    You can’t sell older used stuff anymore, either, due to a recent change in reselling laws that mandated products had to have a special sticker showing that, during production, they’d been tested to certain (new) safety standards. The standards weren’t all that different, but they made it a lot harder to get rid of old things.

    Not that I condone the dumping. Just saying there are more reasons for it than mentioned in the post. People here are seriously only interested in new things, though. Our tv was the 2008 “Spring” model, which we bought just as the “Fall” models, which had nothing more than cosmetic differences, were ocming out. Our 6 month old tv was discounted nearly $800. And yeah, I had some shelves I found in the garbage. Worked just fine.

  26. I’ve picked up a working gas stove (that has since been further recycled to friends in need), a complete working desktop/monitor/keyboard (less its Hard Drive) that was just over a year old. A classic upright radio, an old dentist’s chair (all 350 lbs of it) and more chairs than I have friends to sit in. And let’s not get into office furnishings…just pays to be in the right place at the right time (and have a truck…)

  27. I heard a story that is most likely pure fiction about how a guy left his fridge outside with a sticker saying “Free to good home”, and it stayed there for a week.
    Giving up on that, he changed the sticker to read “Fridge, £20 – put money through letterbox”, and it was ‘knicked’ within the hour…

  28. Great post Danny!

    Being an “Akiba Junk diver”, on the recycle trash day, I love to take a walk at night in my neibourgh in Yoyogi: in December, before coming back to Europe for few months, I found 30.000 yen of new CDs (BOOK OFF value) and a great collection of mangas…
    Basically in Tokyo homeless doing serious junk diving can eat and be entertained without speding a Yen (thats probably why 90% of Toyko homeless have stopped collecting cartons and cans)!

  29. Increasingly, watching people “upgrade” their technology so frequently, ridding themselves of perfectly good, functioning goods, makes me feel a bit sick.

    The aspect that’s easy to forget is that all goods are judged based on whether you want it or not. (i.e. subjective value)

    Whether you rip out carpet because it’s stained or just a hideous color, well “stained” is just another undesirable color.

    I might have a “perfectly good, functioning” IBM 286 desktop, but if it won’t do what I want to use it for, then it’s not actually “functioning”.

    But as many others have pointed out, so long as someone else buys (or at least picks up) your unwanted goods (ala “one person’s junk is another’s treasure”), this isn’t a problem at all. Everybody gets “richer” as a result.

  30. This is actually very common in my local. We call it “Street Salvage”.

    There is a unique aspect here, however. It is illegal to put anything out on the side of the road prior to 3 am in the morning. Due to the affluent nature of the area, there are often very desirable items left for “salvage”, as a result, there is a rush to examine and claim those items that might be of value or could be resold, there are always people wandering and trash picking from 3 am on.

    A year ago (I believe it was in March or so, the weather was still a bit cold), there was a one day sale at the local appliance store on big screen tv sets. The populace from neighboring less wealthy communities, being in tune with the greed of the residents to own the biggest and brightest tech equipment, knew that there would be a rush to upgrade smaller flat screens.

    At 3 am there was a huge rush into the area, multiple fights as the less fortunate attempted to score these little used sets. If I recall correctly there were at least two serious injuries from the conflicts that occurred.

    There is now talk of forcing residents to discard electronics at a designated point, from which they will be available to the “pickers” (as we call them) in a peaceful manner.

  31. I come from a long line of people who pick things up from the side of the road in case they come in handy! Our younger-than-20-years-old television was a hand-me-down from my sister and her husband but originally from the street; they upgraded to a better abandoned one!

    Furniture, children’s toys, old barrels, bits of wire, garden trellises… Not exactly in the same vein as high technology, but usually very serviceable and rather jolly to acquire.

  32. Spot on , # 23 . I’ve gotten and given good stuff through frecycle. Of course curbside scavenging has a certain cachet as that can’t be denied either.

  33. Mostly, people around here leave their old electronics and appliances on the edge of the road along with a bonus mattress or deer carcass minus the horns and steaks.

  34. In the states, Craig’s list has made it quite easy to get rid of stuff someone else might want. I’ve gotten rid of quite a few large things I had no way of toting off myself by simply putting a “curb alert” ad with a picture. Gone in hours.

  35. I have seen one old TV next to a red cross second hand clothes recycle bin here (in Italy) and I am tempted to do the same … i have a 12 year old 4:3 TV .. which i kinda love, the Toshiba Timm, a weird hyprid which also functions as a PC screen … but it is old, CRT, and onlt does NTSC .. which does not work here .. and I have been schlepping it around the world for a long time now .. not even sure if it still works … and no one here can tell me how to correctly discard balk trash (also have a broken office chair that does not fit into the bin … )

  36. I have a friend (here in SF) who’s the king of street scores, having in one week snagged a 27″ Sony WEGA (in beautiful condition) and a 46″ Sony 1080i 16:9 rear-projection HDTV (needed 10 minutes’ tweaking with a Phillips-head screwdriver); in recent years he’s also found a pristine Rhodes Mk-I Suitcase Piano and a (slightly less than pristine) Crumar DS2 synth.

  37. @dejanigma

    I second that – have passed on many an electrical device via the medium of Freecycle. It’s always amazing how many responses you get when you offer anything, and at times somewhat heart-rending to reject all but one.

  38. No thanks. I live in Cincinnati, Ohio. If I were to pick something up from the curb, I would most likely get BEDBUGS. Its an epidemic here.

  39. In the NJ suburbs you’ll see people put stuff at the curb with a sign that says “FREE!!!!”.

    I’ve gotten rid of a lot of junk this way. I hate throwing good stuff away, but I hate the volume of junk sitting around my basement, garage, etc.

  40. Here in the Peoples’ Republic of Ann Arbor, the law allows you to put stuff out on the curb briefly – about a day. After that, you have to remove it, make arrangements, etc.

    I’ve picked up stuff and fixed it, mostly for myself. Very seasonal around here. College students leaving after the term is over tend to dump their apartments.

    The better traveled streets are best for curb-side-recycling. Quiet neighborhood streets don’t get enough traffic, I think, although there are professional scroungers around here.

    Besides a collection of second-hand shops that have been around forever, the City also runs a “Recycle/Reuse” shop where people can donate stuff for a tax deduction. The stuff there is definitely past it’s prime, but you can get lucky too.

  41. University students frequently abandon furniture and electronics as they move out of their dorms – but the people who clean up after them get most of the good stuff.

  42. At the end of the school year in any college town you will find tons of stuff on the street corner. I’ve personally gotten furniture and a 32inch crt television that way.

  43. Apartments near universities, roughly a week before and a week after graduation, have good stuff.

    Unfortunately, the best universities to pick over sometimes also have entitled goons who intentionally bust anything set to the curb or pickup.

  44. Today is trash day for most of this area. This morning the phone rang at 8:20 am and a very cold sounding friend said “Hey! You want some new old stock Jensen speakers and Mallory tube amp caps?” Sure I did, or rather the next ’60s guitar amp to come through the door for repair would want them. What I wanted was to sleep, actually. How does something like that end up at the curb as trash?
    Since the price of copper went up there’s been a phenomenon of ‘cording’ appliances left curbside. People will bike along and cut the cord off of everything they can reach, in the hope of recycling the copper for a few cents. This ruins the appliance for anyone who isn’t capable of replacing the cord safely. If you must cord appliances, please leave 2″ or so attached so that someone can splice a new cord on and try the unit out.
    Our community has curbside everything. large appliances will be removed by the city on trash day without prior arrangement. Just push that 1978 avocado green Frigidaire out to the street and stride briskly away. We also curbside recycle metal, glass and plastic. The municipal recycling center for larger quantities, electronics, etc. is only 4 miles away. Very convenient.
    Because a lot of what is left at the curb is valuable recycling and a few Pickers leave messes, removing items from the curb has been made illegal in this and several neighboring communities. It does reduce the number of pickup trucks cruising the streets on the morning of trash day but I worry that reusable items are getting buried in a hole instead of getting a second life.

  45. I work in a roitzy-toitzy neighborhood in Brooklyn and I the stuff I see get thrown out some weeks could easily populate my apartmental needs for the year. Its kinda of criminal how much goes to waste. At least there’s rats like me to feed off their scraps.

  46. My best ‘trash’ gem was a complete Galaga arcade game and enough spare parts to resell to collectors to have the CPU board fixed.
    Arcade games are neat that way; $1,500 initial cost, $10,000+ in revenue; by the time it develops problems, it’s no loss to throw it away.

    To get back on topic, some stores here in the US (Big Lots, I think) sometimes gets in old Japanese arcade games for $100. Wonder if they were diverted from the recyclers..

    Remember, repairs beat recycling every time. It should be the last resort, just after re-purposing (see toaster VCR elsewhere on bb..)

  47. I know street salvaging is a common occurance here in northeast Ohio. When I was younger if we saw old tables/chairs/other furniture we would stop to investigate. But when it comes to FUNCTIONAL (working, good condition) electronics I don’t think people leave them by the side of the road. Even if it’s like 20 years old, people try and sell their TVs. I sold mine last year, granted it was only 5-6 years old, but I managed to get $70 out of it so I could pay some bills. I think the idea is, “Well, it’s old, used…kinda ugly…but SOMEONE will want to pay money for it.”

  48. Yup, all my old stuff goes to:

    I think the time it takes for free stuff to be claimed might be a measure of the affluence of a society or the robustness of the economy. In more halcyon days, there was stuff I posted for free that I finally gave up on and ended up tossing. Nowadays, not so much.

    The government should create an index based on how long it takes to give stuff away. Maybe call it something like the “Consumer Desperation Index”.

  49. The mystique of the Orient? SHATTERED!!

    …Because this is how the rest of the freaking world gets free stuff too.

    Up next: How pooping is done in Japan (and why it is both quirkily charming *and* innately superior)

  50. My community is blessed with a patron saint of used electronics. He accepts outmoded computers from the community, fixes them, and gives them to the needy. Everyone wins.

  51. Our trash collection service has switched to trucks with arms that pick up the big new trashcans, so no one ever sees what’s in our trash now- could be VCR’s, 14″ monitors, former pets, body parts, failed experiments, anything goes now!

    [twinge of conscience] Anything worthwhile goes to AmVets or Salvation Army, but curbside with a sign works. This area is very popular for yard sales.

  52. Danny,

    I am sure you are aware of the Electric Appliance Recycling Law (2001).

    Japanese municipalities do not collect the items in the pic (TV and washing machine) anymore. These are among the four on the list (+ air conditioners and refrigerators) that you have to carry to the collection point and pay a fee (18 – 160 USD, not 3!).

    The idea is to curb the urge to “keep up with the Suzuki’s” by imposing the fee, and to activate the reuse/recycle network. Of course the law is not without flaws, but it certainly changes the context of leaving these items on the street.

    May I suggest you edit the post?

  53. I confess- I live in a trailer park. This sort of thing happens there all the time.

    And yes- there are high-tech geeks that live in trailer parks. It’s cheap to live there- so more money for the newest gadgets…

  54. I’m just about get rid of our old CRT TV with a free ad to craigslist. In the Bellevue/Seattle area, Craigslist is amazing. I’ve gotten rid of nearly everything I’ve ever posted within 2 days. Most go the first day.

    I might even look into freecycling it.

  55. Here in the great state of Delaware (home of Jumpin’ Joe Biden and tax free shopping!) I have owned at least six TVs and four or five window air conditioners I picked up from the side of the road and fixed.

    I’ve built many a computer from trash… there are two local schools, a UU church, and quite a few individuals around here running systems I built from dumpster-diving.

    My experience here is that 95% of abandoned TVs work (but rarely have remotes handy) and about 30% of abandoned air conditioners just need to have the coils thoroughly cleaned with a garden hose.


  56. In Germany it’s quite expensive and complicated, you have to call garbage disposal, they will set a date (anything between two or six weeks) and they will charge you about 20 – 50 Euro or so.
    So if you’re keeping up with the Suzukis (or the Maiers), try placing an ad on (everything and for free), maybe someone needs your old stuff and gives it a nice new home.

  57. I’ve had amazingly good luck with my curbshopping. My best find was a fully-functioning 100-CD jukebox.

    I have also gotten a working riding mower (with keys!), 4 DVD players, a floor safe, 2 TVs, a brand-new still-unassembled leather executive chair, a large roll of plastic-wrapped carpeting, a computer desk, approximately 150 new blank VHS tapes, a sewing machine and desk, a nice chaise lounge, a 4-foot wooden tiki, numerous computers and accessories, dozens of useful plant pots, tomato cages, a really nice Little Tykes playhouse and slide, and 3 wheelbarrows.

    For those who live in a small town like me, I recommend becoming familiar with trash pickup patterns in your town, and taking a 5-minute drive through that area in the evening. Unless you’re interested in re-selling items (which I’m not) you only need to go out when you’re in need of something– you can quickly find yourself burdened with unnecessary things otherwise!

  58. I can’t believe the extravagant waste of these countries. In my country (South Africa) we have people that live off the garbage dumps. They scavenge in toxic waste every day to survive. Also, once a week when putting out the trash for collection, hordes of scavengers descend on the bins to scratch through them for food.

  59. I have a friend who has been living in northern Japan for well over a decade. He was (and still is) quite the audiophile, insisting on only the best stereo equipment.

    Even with this self-imposed restriction, he has managed to furnish his apartment with top-of-the-line gear – appliances, TV, and yes, stereo, all from the street.

    The only thing he has to do is carry it home and replace the plug (seems many people cut off the power cord plug when they junk stuff). 99% of it is in perfect working order, and quite clean.

  60. Curbcycle, freecycle, craigslist, goodwill, salvation army, other charity based (hospice, big brothers/big sisters, etc) thrift stores all work well where I live.

    I’m 65 years old and have never in my life bought a TV, although I’ve always had one (or more) when I was settled down.

    My last three TV upgrades came from curbcycle – one a couple blocks away, the next to last from the house across the street, the last from the house next door… I don’t watch TV at home – ever – but I do watch plenty of DVDs and VCR movies.

    Some local thrift stores (and yard sales) sell VCR movies for less than it would cost to rent them…

    So if I curbcycle something, I put a note on it saying “FREE – it works!”

    I live in a nice middle class neighborhood, but stuff still goes away in an hour or two. In a different neighborhood maybe a third of a mile away things would disappear in minutes…

    If it’s junk, I’d trash it rather than try to get someone else to carry it off – that’s pretty tacky, IMHO.

  61. I live in Toronto and I move around the city a lot. I’ve noticed appliance/gadget disposal is very different in different neighbourhoods. Usually when I want to get rid of something I’ve waited for decent weather and left it by the sidewalk with a sign saying “free” and “working” or a brief summery of what’s wrong with it. Most places I’ve lived these things were claimed in a day or two. A couple places they stayed and I had to take them to the trash/computer-recycling drop off.

    I’ve had to change my ways at my new house. There is an old dude who roams the streets cutting the cord off anything left out for more than an hour and turning the perfectly functional printer (my home office is now paperless) into a 20 pound doorstop. If the cutter doesn’t make it in time someone else is likely to stuff a cigarette butt or crumpled up pack into one of the openings on the device.

    Thanks to those jerks I now take the extra time and effort to post everything I want to get rid of on or similar and arrange a pick up with someone.

  62. There are plenty of places where the poor live by scavenging off the toxic waste heaps of the affluent.
    Using money to show social status is also common. The person who finds something valuable in the trash shows off to the person who didn’t-even if it’s through buying extra food.
    If the rich left no trash what would those poor people do? Serious question. My grandfather ran a junkyard-if no-one wanted to get rid of stuff he wouldn’t have had a business that employed 3 guys. And talk about stripping appliances left at curbside-thieves are now stripping new construction as it’s going up.
    As a user-until-really-really-dead of appliances and computers (this one is running Windows Pro 2000) I don’t get the idea of new toys for the sake of newness-but if it means that I can scrounge an almost new toy for free or cheap, I say Let them buy!

  63. My last apartment in Japan was more than half furnished from things I found near the trash dumpsters. My TV, Satellite dish/w tuner, Fax, Kitchen Table w/4 chairs, Coffee table and two book shelf’s all courtesy of the trash. I haven’t had the same luck here in San Francisco -tho I did find a cool old table missing a leg which I replaced with a 2×4.

  64. Well, we a) give stuff to one of the charities that takes them (some of them will even pick up larger items), or b) give them to my parents, who are generally too frugal to spend money on electronic gadgets.

    So yeah, nothing new in this idea. I got a great solid oak table a number of years ago from a neighbor’s trash. It just needed a good sanding and a new coat of polyurethane.

    Tried Freecycle, though, without much luck: people would say they were coming to pick something up, then never show. I’m done with Freecycle.

  65. Its the same here in New Zealand. Most goods put out are gone within hours.
    We also have what is known as the wood exchange. An un-official spot on the side of the road where one can leave wood (demo material, cut down trees) and others will take it away for recycling or firewood.

  66. I picked up a box of beautiful gold-leaf china just yesterday, although the weather around here usually precludes putting electronics outside. We have “big stuff” pick-up days in the Spring and Fall where municipal garbage trucks pick up things that won’t fit in the mandated bags or plastic recycle boxes (and garbage men around here are really picky). Just putting a couch out any time during the week would probably get you in trouble eventually, but this one day a week you can just drive around and find (usually shitty but usable) old furniture for free. Many of my friends living in houses furnished like this. However, I think the tradition of handing things down to friends and family is what really keeps things off the curb.

  67. No ?
    No ?
    No nearby?
    Then you need to found a Freecycle there… easy to do.

  68. People in my neighborhood do that, though more for appliances than electronics.

    If it sits in front of my house for more than a day, I take photo & post on Craigslist under “free” with the street. Seems to work.

    The only thing that doesn’t work is upholstered furniture. But then anyone can call for large item pick up, and we have enough busy-body neighbors to take care of that.

    There’s also the Freecycle site, which in major metro areas works great. I tried it several times for some rosebushes that I needed to pull out for some sewer work, but no one ever actually came. (So they were replanted and doing fine.)

  69. Ditto to craigslist and freecycle, or to just setting the sh*t on the curb. If it’s a nice weekend day, it will get picked up without you having to advertise at all. A little note taped to electronics that says “works” is sufficient. It’s like a tag sale, without the “sale” part. And yes to dorm dumpsters at semster’s end.

  70. This article inspired me to make a side trip on my errands today. Passing a Salvation Army I abruptly swerved in to look at the CDs and records. Beautiful, quiet, clean European pressings of great orchestras and soloists for 10/$2.00. Twenty cents apiece for the artifacts of high Western culture. Once these disks get run through the VPI HW16 wet/dry record cleaner they will be as good as new.
    Today’s errand was to pick up another B&O record player to be cannibalized for parts for for PhonoBOt4004 The Remote Control Record Player. It’s now working but not quite ready for its closeup.

  71. Read a great John Fallows essay about this years ago; I believe the best hunting was on “sodai gomi” day . . . big garbage day.

    * * *

    Folks in my apartment complex who move out in a hurry often leave stuff behind. Sometimes really good stuff. Sometimes I adopt it; more often I clean it up and bring it too Goodwill.

    Best find: Working high-end Toshiba laptop with docking station and power supply. Maybe four years old. I had to reinstall Windows 2000.

    Most horrible: A live white mouse. It had escaped from its cage, which was left in the dumpster area. My dog found it first. Crunch.

  72. The area of town I live in gets bulk trash picked up once a month. It’s supposed to be every week, but whatever. In the week before people start hauling stuff to the curb, and other people start driving by and digging through it. This morning on the way to work I noticed a decent bbq grill, so it’s in the back of my truck right now, and tonight my old crappy one will be on the curb. I’ve been meaning to weld up a nice bbq grill for a few years, now that’ll get pushed back even further :) I’ve hauled off old computers found at the side of the road before, and fixed them up for friends and family. Got a tv once that was broken, but $50 later at the repair place it was fixed. It’s now the game console tv. Got a tablesaw once, but the motor was fried and the blade was missing. Used the table itself and the stand to make a router table that is pretty stout, not sure if that counts though.

    There is a dude who lives down the road a bit who picks up the scrap metal around here. he’s pretty good about waiting till stuff has been on the curb for a day or two first, to let anyone who can use it grab it. He’s also good about keeping bikes he finds, so he’s a good place to go to for bike parts. And if he ever finds an anvil, he knows to come to me and I’ll buy it from him for more than scrap value.

  73. This is how lifehack communities bifurcate into Japanese and English-speaking expats.

    If you live in Japan and think leaving stuff on the street is cool, you might be creating xenophobia in the neighborhood. My college town landlords complain about “ignorant, careless Gaijin” dumping TVs on the curb.

    Freecycle, Freegeek, Craiglist may not be too big here. Similar networks operate in Japanese: eg.

    The new law 家電リサイクル法 (see my comment above) has changed the context in which second hand items circulate; we’ve got far more recyclers in the neighborhood. Recycle/repair shops have sprung up. Campuses host annual hand-me-down events. Or we just help friends when they move out, get their stuff, do the same when we move.

    You and your friends need an update, Danny.
    I don’t like to think you’re one of “them”.

    Try discussing with your Japanese friends when you make these posts. We could all benefit from the added dimension. You could improve your life in Japan.

  74. In Austin, we have “bulk trash day” once (or twice) a year. You (and those in your neighborhood) will get a card in the mail a couple of weeks in advance. Since it’s for a neighborhood (and another
    neighborhood or more across town), it usually takes about a week for the city to come by and pick up your items. There are “rules” about what you can put out on the curb, but for the most part people just put out anything they don’t want and that won’t fit in their garbage cans.

    Most people I know call it “Hippy Christmas”. Some make it their job to keep track of what neighborhoods are scheduled, and start cruising those areas that weekend so that they can get the best pickings. I’ve heard that it’s illegal for people to pick up someone else’s “trash”, but I’ve never heard of anyone actually getting ticketed. Some people like to watch and see who picks up the stuff they just put out. One elderly woman opened her door and told me to enjoy the (vintage, but in perfect condition) bicycle I was taking from her curb. In a way, it was a little embarrassing. ;-)

    The metal scrappers are becoming a bit aggressive lately though. Normally content to just drive around in large trucks and trailers and pick up hot water heaters, washing machines, etc, they’ve started to dismantle items to get to the metal scrap. When I put out our old glass shower doors (and frame), someone came by before I had even walked back into the house and asked if he could have them. I said sure, then he tossed the mounting frame into his truck bed and whipped out a screwdriver and started removing the frame from around the glass doors. I requested that he either take the entire door(s) since one of “the rules” is no bare glass, but he wasn’t too happy with that idea, so he left them. Next morning, metal frames were gone, glass doors still there. Luckily, either someone else came by the next day who happened to want the glass or the city picked it up anyway.

  75. Back to Japan again —

    You’re not supposed to pick up those items.

    It is like potlatch – you show off your status by the quality of what you throw away – and you can also gain status by walking right by those nearly new items as if you don’t need them.

    Only foreigners would pick them up.

  76. One time, we put a dehumidifier out on the curb and called the local charity shop to pick it up. When we checked later to see if it was gone, there were *two* dehumidifiers on the curb. I didn’t know they multiplied.

  77. Potlatch, indeed.

    By throwing stuff on the street you show off how you …

    _would like to avoid paying the minimum 17 USD;
    _are too lazy to look up the nearest recycler that might take it for free if you’re lucky;
    _have no friends to take it for you what might eventually cost 17 USD or more.

    Or that you just don’t know or care.

    The rich will upgrade before their stuff are still new and have market value. The poor get stuck with the really old stuff and are compelled to throw them on the street.

    Oh the irony.

  78. The actual cost of recycling and repurposing electronic goods is on par with what they charge in Japan. With legislation in place against the sale of used electronic goods over 10 years old that is the effect of targeted lobbying from the major electronics corporations, charging consumers for tossing out perfectly good electronics is a good thing!

    See the easy-to-digest overview here:

  79. My wife lived in Japan for a year and told about something I haven’t seen mentioned here yet. As part of their culture, the Japanese find buying anything used distasteful. They don’t have anything akin to thrift shops over there. All furniture and electronics have to be NEW to be worthy. She said it was Americans who grabbed all the free goodies.

    This fits with the Japanese people being so ecologically insenstive, but maybe (hopefully) that’s changed?

  80. Common here in the wild suburbs of Melbourne Australia. Twice a year the local council has a ‘hard rubbish’ collection. You get two square meters (although no-one actually measures their stuff) free rubbish removal-no tyres, batteries, acids etc. So, for the week beforehand it’s every man for himself, although if the police or council catch you reclaiming goods its a fine. Over the last couple of collections I’ve managed to pick up:
    *Carpet for the garage
    *Sansui A-60 amplifier/tuner (which is connected to my computer and playing The Hold Steady as I type)
    *one HUGE Kenwood power amp
    *Sony 3 in 1 stereo system with surround sound, which graces my desk at work
    *Kirby vacuum cleaner with shampoo kit, which went straight to eBay
    *heaps of exercise equipment-it’s in the garage, on the carpet, you see…
    *portable colour tv (with remote gaffa taped to it)

    viva recycling, I say!

  81. I have to admit Danny, that I think your reaching now for stuff to post about Japan. Picking up electronics off the curb is far less prevalent these days in Tokyo than in the 90’s. Far more likely the stuff will be hauled away by one of the many little trucks that toodle around with their speakers on announcing they’re coming. Any TV you find nowadays will probably be a big analog that costs $50 or so to have taken away. Anyone leaving a TV next to the dumpster at Bamiyan is just a jerk.

    And anyone who thinks only foreigners pick this stuff up has never lived here. I left a box of mismatched dishes and mugs with a sign in Japanese that said “free” and it was all gone by morning. Even the box.

  82. Perhaps not so much charities and thrift shops but more personal exchange? I’m Japanese and my apartment is 90% stuff from my friends.

    Some Japanese, but not all…

  83. While much of this information is correct, I think very few Japanese people pick up second-hand goods like this anymore. I was here in 1989 and at that time, I heard it was not unheard of, if not popular. And in the decade I have lived in Japan (1999 to current) I have seen my fair share of dumped goods in Japan. In fact, I like to document it here ( – a page that was mentioned by Bruce Sterling @ Wired

    But I just don’t believe the Japanese are into doing this anymore, no matter what the economy looks like. People are keeping things much longer than they used to, new environmentally-conscious laws have been enacted, and it’s not as easy to dump stuff as it used to be. So while it’s still pretty easy to find stuff laying around, it’s usually crap that has been sitting there forever and you wouldn’t want to touch it anyway.

  84. Hard Rubbish!

    Council areas all voer the metro area have hard rubbish once every 12ish months.

    In the mor eexpensive areas it is more than common to find people waiting with trailers to grab the relatively new and fully functioning stuff that is chucked away.

    I’ve got myself several CRT monitors, a spare TV and even a DCC deck (Digital Compact Casette player, remmeber those?)

    And I feel exactluy the same as 13strong @#3 – this reckless need to upgrade and dispose is… eurgh. Give me the days when that TV / washing machine / fridge was a 15 year investment. I don’t care if the plastic case it comes it looks out of date.

    It does make me feel a bit antiquated when The Simpsons’ officially have a better TV than I do, though (see: new HD opening).

  85. #86

    “As part of their culture, the Japanese find buying anything used distasteful. They don’t have anything akin to thrift shops over there.”

    This USED to be correct. Hard times breed new thinking. Thrift shops and 100 YEN STORES (DAISO) are everywhere now. Look up HOUSE OFF, BOOK OFF, HARD OFF, and HOBBY OFF.

  86. I used to do this all the time when I first moved out of my parent’s house. I’d go on, which is kind of like an online flea market, and go into the free section just to see what people were giving away. I used to think about taking the stuff for free and fixing it up so I could turn a profit, but that sounded like a little too much thought into the matter…

  87. The oddest stuff turns up here. Friends think that because I work with audio electronics everything electronic, technical and musical belongs at my house. This week: an optical sight from a WW II rocket launcher, a vacuum servo gyroscopic autopilot from an aircraft, a home made record player and six huge reels of 2″ studio master tapes from a jazz album. This stuff is mostly worthless or worse. Now I have to track down a musician and find out if he wants his tapes, which he probably threw away but you never know. The metal will get sorted and recycled if possible.

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